I have been a nerd all my life. While I say that I came into my nerdiness and really started to own it at around 13 years old, when I look back over my life, I was always a nerd. I love, and continue to love, reading fantasy and sci-fi books. I made a proton pack with some yarn, a shoebox, and a baby rattle because I loved the cartoon series The Real Ghostbusters. The animated X-Men series and Batman: The Animated Series were can’t miss TV. Somehow I managed to convince my parents to upgrade my video game systems every few years, from Atari to N64, the first portable game player in the Sega Game Gear, and I owned about three different versions of the Nintendo Gameboy. I mean I loved my Barbie dolls and dressing up as a princess, but I also loved having the chance of going to the arcade, playing Mortal Kombat and doing the Fatality move in which I ripped out an opponent’s heart as well.
I started owning and proclaiming my nerdiness in junior high. I got tired of trying to be accepted by the cool kids, and just dove on into it. It was in 8th grade that I discovered both Star Trek: The Next Generation AND Star Wars, and had to read The Hobbit as part of our English class and loved it, so I went all in. It is so weird to read about women and people of color being maligned and gatekept out of nerd culture because in high school I was accepted by nerdy boys in my class as one of their own. Not because I tried to be a tomboy and I definitely wasn’t some good looking tween all the boys wanted. I think at that time, because the geeks hadn’t inherited the earth yet, we all had to stick together. I am grateful to them for accepting me—they answered my questions such as the difference between DC and Marvel; talked about the X-Men in depth and the difference between the Uncanny X-Men and the Ultimate X-Men; taught me the proper way to hold a comic book to keep from ripping the corners and lessening the value. And they treated me with respect, as it should be always. And we were a diverse group, white, black, male, and me as the lone female.
As I got older, I realized that my nerdy interests were unusual when my “normal” Black family started to point out my interests deviated from the norm of other Black people. My family would ask me “Why do I like all this white people stuff?!” which only made me push back and dive into geek culture even more because no one was going to tell me what I can and cannot enjoy! But those conversations planted the seeds for me to take a look around and I realized, that while my nerd friend group was diverse, most of the nerdy entertainment I loved wasn’t. Race was never an issue before. I just enjoyed the entertainment that I did and that was that. When I was younger, I always questioned why did race matter when it came to my friends or my choice of music or shows. I had the “colorblind” mentality I was taught in school.
photo courtesy of x-men.fandom.com
But that question of “Why do I love all that white people stuff?” stuck with me. So, I started to cling to every Black character I saw in the shows and movies and video games I loved to play. Storm from X-Men. Zach the Black Ranger and Aisha the Yellow Ranger from Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Lando Calrissian in the original Star Wars trilogy and then Mace Windu in the Star Wars prequels. Though Data was my Star Trek crush, I saw representation in Geordi La Forge and Whoopi Goldberg’s Guina. And in my favorite Star Trek movie, Star Trek: First Contact, Alfre Woodard played Lily Sloan, a character who played a major part in making sure First Contact, a major history point in Star Trek history, happen. Those characters I held on to, and continue to hold on to, as proof that we, Black people, can exist in these fantastical, genre spaces and also proof that I had every right to love these worlds. They were my examples when I argued that being a nerd and enjoying these shows weren’t just for “white people”. I had the right to be passionate about these superheroes and sci-fi worlds.
In the past 20 years, nerd culture has become THE dominating popular culture. The nerds are no longer the underdogs, the uncool, but on top. And with that has come gatekeeping and trying to maintain a sort of status quo, which includes keeping people of color and women as far outside that space as possible. One just has to look at how comic book fans lost their minds when Sam Wilson became Captain America in the comics or having John Boyega or Kelly Marie Tran as major characters in Star Wars. And in moments like those I start to wonder if maybe my family was right; the movies, the TV shows, the books that I love are just for white people. Which makes it all the more important for me to champion diversity in geek spaces. That I matter. That Black Geek Lives Matter. That is why I love the term Blerd, which means Black Nerd. When I found out that there is an actual term and there are people like me who are Black and Nerdy and are PROUD of it, it was like I found Wakanda in real life. I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE!!! It was with no second thought that I adopted this title.
photo courtesy of IMDb
Over the years I have noticed how comic con spaces and nerd spaces are filling up with more and more people who look like me. Amazing cosplayers, amazing writers, amazing comic book artists. In the past two years I have discovered amazing Black, female sci-fi/fantasy writers and learning about Afrofuturism and our place in nerd pop culture. I try to support shows and movies in genre that are written, directed, and/or star Black people as the main characters. If I had the talent to cosplay, it is nice to know and see as the years go by that there are more and more characters being created and showcased that are Black that I could cosplay as, though by no means should I be limited to just Black characters; I mean have you seen the amazing Black anime cosplayers?! To see Jordan Peele re-write what it means to have horror movies with major Black leads and Ryan Coogler write and direct a major Marvel superhero movie that has a majority Black cast that made over a billion dollars worldwide and the first Marvel movie to be nominated for an Academy Award is amazing. The latter really means a lot to me because Ryan Coogler is from Oakland, CA which is where I grew up and where I began to foster my love for all things geek.
I know that there are those white fans who want to keep the status quo of their childhood, where the stories of gods and heroes looked just like them. But times change. People of color are clamoring to be seen in ALL media, including comic books, superhero movies, and sci-fi movies. We deserve to have our voices heard when it comes to critiquing that media as well as celebrating that media. We deserve to see ourselves. To show that geek culture is not just “white culture”. It belongs to everyone. Everyone deserves a spot with the Avengers or a seat in the Hall of Justice, not just white characters. And I will continue to advocate for that. To say loud and proud that I am a Blerd.
My favorite quote that truly summarizes how I feel comes from the villain Killmonger in Black Panther. He says “Can you believe that? A kid from Oakland, running around believing in fairy tales.” That is me to this day, a kid from Oakland, forever running around believing in fairy tales, and loving seeing those that look like her in those fairy tales. Representation matters and I am glad that children today have plenty more characters to look up to than I did growing up. It makes my Blerd heart proud. And I hope they will see that they do belong and that it is not just “white people stuff”, but for them too.